Revisiting ‘La La Land’ for its Blu-ray Release

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La La Land Blu-ray

It happens every year around awards season. A movie debuts at a film festival and the first critics to see are emphatic in their praise. They call it great and start talking about its awards chances. Then critics across the country start to see it. Some echo the enthusiasm of the initial screenings. Others simply don’t care for the movie. And even others start to criticize the movie based upon the initial reactions and not quite the movie itself. This past year, the movie to face that predictable backlash was La La Land, Damien Chazelle’s musical homage to Los Angeles. I was somewhere in the middle upon my first viewing of La La Land. It’s amazing to look at with its vibrant production design and costumes but the songs of the musical failed to connect to me. I didn’t think there was single toe-tapper in the bunch. Revisiting the film for the first time since theaters for its Blu-ray release, I found myself unchanged on my opinions of La La Land. It’s a very good movie that isn’t a great musical.

For those unaware of its story, La La Land is about a romance between Mia (Emma Stone), an aspiring actress, and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an aspiring musician with an immense love for jazz. At first their interactions are contentious before they eventually nestle into a romance. As they pursue their dreams in the City of Angels, though, they’re forced to make personal compromises that could jeopardize their love for each other. It’s a problem that people of all walks of life face, not just the dreamers wandering the streets of Los Angeles.

La La Land has as audacious an opening scene as you’ll find in the movies. Chazelle and his crew were able to shut down a freeway ramp in Los Angeles (something that is not an easy feat) and staged a massive dance number presented in a single lengthy shot. Throughout the film, Chazelle and cinematographer Linus Sandgren (who won the Oscar for this work on the film) present an array of audacious camera movements and a captivating color palate that dazzles the eye.

The songs of La La Land by Chazelle and Justin Hurwitz are what’s holding back the film from being truly great. Sure, the movie did take home the Oscar for Best Original Song with “City of Stars,” but there just aren’t any songs that are earworms. A big part of that may be the film’s sound mixing, which causes many of the film’s big musical numbers to sound muddled in their choruses. There’s also a complexity to the musical arrangements that prevents them from being catchy and infectious pop melodies. Some have complained that neither Gosling nor Stone are particularly adept at singing or dancing, but I think it’s wrong to pin the blame on them for songs that just don’t stick in your head for a moment after the movie ends.

Examining the special features on the La La Land Blu-ray gave me a little extra insight into what may have led to passionate rejection of the film by a certain set of critics. Damien Chazelle has achieved massive success at the age of 32, becoming the youngest Oscar-winner for Best Director in history. Some people take exception to the wunderkind label placed upon Chazelle and on the various featurettes and commentary the director’s immense confidence in his cinematic vision may be mistaken for brazen arrogance. There’s a passion for this project that Chazelle and his collaborators have brought and they’re quick to rattle off their varied influences in attempting to revive a piece of Hollywood’s Golden Era.

Even with the film’s issues with its songs there’s no denying that La La Land concludes on an incredibly high note, with a stunning fantasy sequence that recalls the painted backdrops of An American in Paris as we revisit the journey of our characters through an entirely different lens. The tragic beauty of this sequence suggests a maturity to Chazelle and his work that defies his age. There’s also something universal to a love lost to ambition and the difficult choices we’re forced to make in choosing between true love and our dreams.

The fiasco at the Oscars and the grace of producer Jordan Horowitz under the oddest of circumstances will be a part of the legacy of La La Land for decades to come. Setting that moment aside, it’s still a lovely movie that is an absolute delight to look at even if the songs aren’t the catchiest numbers in musical history. It’s a movie that been subjected to both praise and condemnation that is warranted as well as unwarranted. La La Land may have been divisive among the critical set but its legacy will endure long past the last tweets of Film Twitter have been sent. Now we’re just left to wonder who the subject of 2017’s backlash will be.

La La Land
  • Overall Score
4

Summary

A vibrant, colorful homage to musicals and the city of Los Angeles, La La Land is a very good movie that isn’t a great musical with songs that fail to stick in the head despite all the visual splendor.

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